Review: Cinderwich by Cherie Priest


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

“Who put Ellen in the blackgum tree?”

‘Decades after trespassing children spotted the desiccated corpse wedged in the treetop, no one knows the answer.

‘Kate Thrush and her former college professor, Dr. Judith Kane, travel to Cinderwich, Tennessee in hopes that maybe it was their Ellen: Katie’s lost aunt, Judith’s long-gone lover.

‘But they’re not the only ones to have come here looking for closure. The people of Cinderwich, a town hardly more than a skeleton itself, are staunchly resistant to the outsiders’ questions about Ellen and her killer. And the deeper the two women dig, the more rot they unearth … the closer they come to exhuming the evil that lies, hungering, at the roots of Cinderwich.’


In Cinderwich, by Cherie Priest, we come along for the ride as two women – Kate and Judith – head to the tiny Tennessee town of Cinderwich, where every year, fresh graffiti appears, asking ‘who put Ellen in the blackgum tree?’.

Ellen was the name of Kate’s aunt and Judith’s lover, who disappeared without a trace in the 1970s. Could the unidentified corpse discovered in the tree have been their Ellen? And how close will the strange, tired little town let them come to finding out?

I enjoyed Cinderwich for quite a few reasons. I was drawn in by the missing-person mystery and stayed for the captivating characters and spooky setting.

Right from the first chapter, I was won over by the characters. I quickly became invested in discovering what had happened to Ellen thanks to Kate’s description of her aunt (who vanished before she was born) as an independent, unconventional feminist scholar disapproved of by Kate’s strait-laced mother and grandmother.

It also helped that I very much liked Kate herself. The story is told from her first-person point of view, and she comes across as amiable, humorous, open-minded, and self-deprecating, with no airs and graces, as well as a sense of failure to reach her potential that I could relate to.

Judith is a more earnest and serious foil to Kate who I felt a great deal of sympathy for, as Ellen was clearly the love of her life and she’s spent more than 40 years not knowing what happened to her. Judith and Kate have their own history, and clearly think a lot of each other. Their interactions are generally characterised by generosity, consideration, and comfort, which is lovely.

I additionally appreciated how, even though Judith’s approaching 80 and can’t push herself too hard physically, she’s still on top form intellectually and sartorially, and very much a determined participant in the investigation and life more generally.

The great representation of older women doesn’t stop there, however. In the course of their inquiries, Kate and Ellen meet three late middle-aged Goths – two sisters and their lifelong friend – who share an amazing-sounding large, vaguely-haunted Victorian house. I would more than happily read a spin-off novel about this trio!

This house was far from the only thing in this book that appealed to me as an enthusiast of all things spooky, though. The setting of a small, quiet, economically-dead town naturally gave me the vibe of a Stephen King novel, but with a predominantly female, progressive cast and a particularly Appalachian/southern flavour of haunting.

Geographically remote and home to the ghost of a member of a prominent local family during its long-gone boom days; folk magic; an unnerving tree; and a feeling of not-quite-right-ness, the town of Cinderwich is virtually an intriguing, creepy character in itself.

And that’s before the scary denouement, which really piqued my imagination, providing possible answers to existing questions, but also posing new ones.

Cinderwich is intriguing and imaginative, with brilliant characters.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK